Living Beyond Neutral Mode
My first Exodus was with a small, local men’s group. At that point, we’d been meeting for prayer and study for a few years. Still, I felt the need for more of a challenge — precisely one that would help me make tangible progress in areas we all continually expressed frustration with (married life, family prayer, and self-discipline).
Since that first Exodus 90 experience, I have continually returned because of the ethos and mission of Exodus, one that I think is crucial and necessary for the Catholic Church and world today. We desperately need authentically virtuous men in the Church — husbands and fathers who disciple, encourage, challenge, and lead.
One of our perennial difficulties as Christians has been to allow our faith to slip back into one compartment among many in our lives, keeping it a mere intellectual/spiritual exercise insulated from our myriad of practical concerns. But those “practical concerns” are the materials God has given us to build the kingdom. There is no neutral territory in our lives.
And men are particularly disheartened by this divide, designed as they are by God. Few organizations in the Church encourage and challenge men in such a holistic way to bring their lives into the light and begin taking steps to build the habits of true Christian discipleship.
The fraternity element of Exodus is the most challenging to me and thus has been the most fruitful when I have truly embraced it. Men yearn most deeply for both challenge and affirmation from other men. But we get used to mediocrity, and bringing our lives into the light is challenging.
I was certainly surprised at my ability to begin exploiting any bit of uncertainty or unclarity regarding the disciplines! Having been through Exodus many times, I recognize that failing and improving are all part of the process.
You begin Exodus 90 with a lot of excitement and motivation. Then you are quickly shocked to discover both your weakness and your penchant for self-deception — the desire to hide from God, self, and others behind the “rules.” You end up leaving each Exodus with incredible self-knowledge that paves the way for continued growth as a Christian man.
One of the most helpful things has been doing Exodus 90 multiple times with different groups of men. Every time, the contrast of experiences shared by the men, the experiences of working through the disciplines together, and the changing experience and challenges of each discipline — all of these yield compounding insight into yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, the pitfalls you need to shore up, and the growth opportunities you have.
I noticed that during earlier Exodus 90 experiences, some of the disciplines of abstaining hit on particular weak areas of mine (alcohol, food) and thus were very challenging. In fact, during these exoduses, while in theory, I was engaging in all of the disciplines as a loving sacrifice, some of them I was just “getting through” with gritted teeth. What I have noticed over time is that while the disciplines are still challenging, my internal relationship with them is different. I can make a more conscious and intentional “gift” of a cold shower, skipped meal, or drink. It has made me think a lot about my relationship with all of the many “gifts” that God has given me and the reality that without the virtue of temperance about these gifts, I lack the ability both to truly enjoy them and the ability to give them up/back to God as a gift/sacrifice.
My repeated experience of Exodus has significantly grown this virtue in me and improved my relationship with the warm shower, food, drink, media, etc. It has ingrained patterns of intentionality and positive engagement with these things that are now a part of my spiritual “feasting” and “fasting” year-round as a Catholic man.
Exodus has convicted me of the idea that there is no such thing as a “morally neutral” choice. Everything we do is intentional and purposeful and brings us nearer to God — or not. Our time, money, opportunities, health, relationships, and work are just unconquered territory waiting to be brought into the light of intentional and purposeful faith.
As Catholics, we are formed and encouraged by the Church to both “fast” and “feast,” but I don’t think we understand either very well because we haven’t gone through the experiences that begin to break open these realities for us.
Every single thing we have or encounter is a gift from God. To receive a warm shower, or healthy and delicious food and drink, as true gifts of God, we must receive them reverently and temperately. And then we need to be able to use them intentionally, and sometimes give them up/give them back as a gift and sacrifice of love.
Through Exodus, I have been able to be more faithful to prayer and have a greater desire to “pray at all times.” Additionally, I have felt the Lord’s call to continually push out past my comfort zones in various areas of my life to be a better leader — to be proactive and bold in bringing light, faith, and clarity into places of darkness, doubt, and confusion.
JonMarc Grodi is a married Catholic father of six, philosopher, bibliophile, distributist, and coffee drinker. He is the Chief Operating Officer of The Coming Home Network, host of The Journey Home on EWTN, and co-host of Elevate Ordinary with his wife, Teresa.
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